LA Schools Still Waiting for Superman

deasy-355The nation’s second largest (and least performing) school district, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), was put through the paces this week when its superintendent, John Deasy, put the district (and the world) on notice that he might resign after receiving criticism for everything from slowing test scores to what is now being called “the Great IPAD debacle.”

The district had a closed door meeting with Superintendent Deasy this week. What was expected to produce a Deasy resignation turned out to be a three-year contract extension.

That is the magic of John Deasy.

He appears out of nowhere with grand expectations. Disappears when the expectations aren’t met, then reappears again like he did something. Ta-Daaaa!!! Okay (blank stare)…

You kinda’ just shake your head.

Same ole’ LAUSD…Still waiting for Superman.

I nicknamed John Deasy “Superman” a couple years ago after he was anointed Superintendent when the Board, in particular the LAUSD School Board President, Monica Garcia, went after then Superintendent, David Brewer, with a vigor that forced his contract to be bought out. John Deasy was handed the superintendent position, without a national search to find a replacement for Brewer. Without mincing words, it stunk to high heaven.

Deasy was deputy superintendent who was said to know more than the superintendent (which he has yet to prove, by the way). So you can imagine the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that caused Brewer’s ouster. The district paid twice to get to this man, and felt they didn’t need to look any further.

Deasy was handed the superintendent’s position around the same time that a documentary on the turnaround of the Harlem School Zone due to the charter school movement, and the difficulties in firing teachers in the failing Washington, D.C. school district (which ultimately got school reformer, Superintendent, Michelle Rhee, fired) was released in late 2010, titled, Waiting For Superman. The title fit Deasy’s Clark Kent persona with the Superhuman expectation of turning around LAUSD – a district that eats superintendents for snacks.

The thesis of the documentary was that communities save schools, not individuals. But individuals can change a community mindset and that’s what Geoffrey Canada did in Harlem. However, in Los Angeles, the district was preoccupied with changing the mindset of the district toward Latinos and second language learners — and that’s what it did. Black students, particularly black males, were left even farther behind. The Monica Garcia/Antonio Villaraigosa school control move on black children was catastrophic. Then shows up John Deasy. Huh???

When Deasy appeared at the Urban Issues Forum in February of 2011 (along with Brewer and other education reformists), I let him have it in my introduction of him. I told the crowd of over 500 parents and community stakeholders, that “this is the man picked to solve the unsolvable. This is the man that LAUSD said they didn’t need a national search for.”

I said to the crowd, “Damn, I had to ask myself, who is this cat that LAUSD would forego a national search for — to hand him the position. He must be a baaaaaaaad man.”

“If fact, he must be Superman.”

“So ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the savior of LAUSD, Superman.

The L.A. School Superintendent (in waiting), Mr. John Deasy.”

People found it entertaining, but I wasn’t playing. I thought it was a mistake not to have a national search for the position, to force Deasy to compete for what he said he could best perform — engineer a culture shift in LAUSD. There was too much at sake for our children.

Well, two years later, we have found out that Superman is only human and the performance scores that were started by his predecessor have barely been maintained. In the meantime, other problems have manifested themselves, and black parents have said “enough is enough.”

Well, we can say it now. There is no such thing as Superman. He is fiction.

We have witnessed the disappearance of the black child in LAUSD.

Three years ago, at the time of Brewer’s buyout, there were 83,000 black students in LAUSD. There are now less than 60,000. Black parents are running from LAUSD.

The cut-and-run has more to do with understanding that the “turnaround” of LAUSD has not been quick enough, that many of the failing schools are still failing miserably, that black males are being conspired against (with disproportionate suspensions and expelling to root them out of the classroom), and that the district’s commitment to charter schools and cultural competency learning models like Brewer’s boys academies and “Breaking the cycle” program — that work everywhere else in the nation — is insincere and are not taken seriously in LAUSD.

The district is not trying to save black boys and has solidified itself as a primary feeder to the “school-to-prison” pipeline in California. The data supports it and the parents know it.

All of this is real and happened on “Superman’s” watch.

Black parents know more than anyone that John Deasy was not Superman. He can’t save our children by himself. If the parents don’t save their children, their children are not going to be saved — because the district is not going to remove incompetent teachers in sufficient numbers, at a fast enough pace.

Deasy’s kryptonite is the teacher’s union, UTLA, that controls a majority of the school board and protects incompetent teachers. LAUSD is run by the union, not the Superintendent.

When Deasy proposed testing teachers, because he found out what we knew all along — that some of his teachers shouldn’t be teaching nor be protected by K-12 tenure rules — the pushback he got from the union was so strong, it forced him to contemplate resignation. Whether it was a bluff or not, time will tell — but he has three more years to prove something.

Trying to slow LAUSD’s fall is like trying to stop a locomotive. And the district’s “commitment to success” will bypass another three grades of underprepared students.

Meanwhile, LAUSD is still waiting for Superman to show up.

anthony samad

anthony samad

Somebody tell our children (and their parents) that Superman doesn’t exist.

Their community will have to save our children. Or they will have to save themselves, an even sadder indictment on the community that let their schools fail without protest or intervention. When the question is asked, why so many of our children failed in public schools, the answer will be quite clear — because their parents waited, a little too long, for a Superman that never existed.

Anthony Samad
Black Commentator

Friday, 1 November 2013

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